Okay…so…that wasn’t a “doggy”.
Late that night, Lydia half-woke to the gentle bounce of the bed as Steve crawled into it, She turned over to face him.
“You made it. We wondered if you’d get here tonight.”
“…mmm…tell you tomorrow…tired….”
“Of course. Glad you’re home. G’nite. Love you.”
“Unhnn. Nite…love you…” He murmured something else as Lydia was dropping back off to sleep.
A minute later, her eyes flew open. Did he just call me Delilah?
In the mornin, Lydia got up quietly, careful not to wake her husband. Out cold, she thought as she gazed at the snoring heap of blankets. Poor guy—wonder if he got any rest at all while he was gone.
Downstairs in the kitchen, she made herself some coffee and toast. Taking it to the table, she sat down at her usual place to watch the birds outside at their feeders. A brush of fur against her leg let her know that the cat, Queenie, was up and wanting breakfast. By the time she’d squared away the cat’s needs, Pat had come downstairs.
“Coffee?” she asked him.
He didn’t say anything as he put on his running shoes.
“Huh? Oh—sorry, Mom. Just kind of distracted this morning. I’ll have some when I get back from my run, thanks.”
“Okay. So—how was your evening?”
He gave her an odd look—worried? Angry? Fearful? Whatever it was, it sure wasn’t happy.
“Pat? What happened?” Anxiety started creeping into her heart.
He put a hand on the doorknob, then turned to her. “I’m not sure, but it wasn’t—well, it was not good— but no one was permanently hurt. I…”
“What do you mean?” Lydia’s mind went into overdrive, with dire scenes of car accidents, bar fights, dog attack…
“Mom—I need to go. After I sort this whole thing out in my head, then I can tell you. Right now I don’t know what to think.”
“Can you tell me the basics?”
Pat sighed. “Okay, I’ll tell you this. Something’s going on in—or should I say under—the Magma buildings, and it’s not good.”
He was away before she could ask anything more.
Lydia sat back down. The sunlight streaming in through the kitchen window had previously been comforting, but now she could not seem to get warm. The thoughts of what had happened to her and to others on that hill, thoughts that were never far from her consciousness, boiled and bubbled to the surface to frighten her once again.
The sound of the kitchen door opening made her jump.
Steve walked in, stretching and yawning.
“Oh, Steve!” Lydia ran to him and flung herself, sobbing, into his surprised embrace.
“What? What’s wrong?” Steve held her, confused. He felt her tremble as she cried into his shoulder, and just waited.
She finally quieted and pulled away, looking up at him with red, puffy eyes. Steve put his hands on either side of her face and kissed her tenderly.
“Now what’s this all about? Let’s sit down and you can tell me.”
Lydia turned away and started toward the coffeemaker. “Let me get you a cup…”
“Never mind that right now. I can wait. Tell me what’s bothering you.” He held her arm, firmly but gently, and gathered her to him again. Then he led her to the table, sat her down, and pulled up a chair beside her.
She blew her nose into a napkin and wiped her eyes with her bathrobe sleeve. Again, Steve waited.
Finally, she began to speak. “It’s been a long weekend with Toby here, and then with what happened yesterday in the park with him, I’m—I don’t know—oh, Steve, it’s starting again!” The tears threatened to return, and she rubbed her eyes fiercely, willing herself to regain control.
Steve’s mind whirled. What? “It”? She can’t mean…
“Honey, please, just tell me what happened yesterday. What happened to Toby?”
At that moment, Toby burst into the kitchen. He saw Steve and flew at him, a huge smile on his little face.
“Unca Steve! Yay! Unca Steve!” He jumped into Steve’s lap and hugged him tightly.
Steve laughed and returned the favor.
“Hey, kiddo, how ya been?” He was puzzled—nothing seemed wrong with the little boy.
Then he noticed the shimmering energy that passed quietly through the closed door. He looked questioningly at Lydia and twitched his head toward the apparition.
“That’s Raphael,” Lydia said with a tired sigh. “He’s taking guardianship of Toby for a while.”
Raphael solidified and nodded a solemn greeting at Steve, who just shook his head in wonder. The archangel Raphael? Who next? Are the Apostles being invited for lunch?
Toby tapped his Uncle Steve on the face, and gave him a very serious, solemn look. “You miss dinner. I make bissits, and you not here,” he said accusingly.
“Oh, rats! I’m so sorry, Toby. There was a lot of traffic, and a car accident, so I got home very late. Are there any left?”
Toby beamed and scrambled off of Steve’s lap. He ran to the refrigerator and fought the door open. He pulled out a plastic bag, then slammed the door shut. On his way back, he reached up to try and get the coffee pot.
“You want coffee?” he asked as he scrabbled for the handle of the glass carafe.
“Toby! No!” Lydia was half out of her seat, Steve along with her.
Raphael moved swiftly as the wind, and caught the hot container as Toby pulled it over on himself. Not a drop spilled.
“How about you let me handle the coffee, Toby”? he asked the little helper. “You just get that bag over to Uncle Steve.”
“Okay.” Toby ran to Steve and thrust the bag at him. “Here ya go! Yummy!”
As Steve reached for the bag, Toby pulled it back for a moment to seize one for himself. He held it up to show his uncle. “No park boogers!”
“Eh?” Steve looked to Lydia for clarification.
Lydia shook her head dismissively. “Just a way to get him to wash his hands,” she whispered.
Steve bit into his biscuit. It was a little dry, but tasted pretty good. “Very nice, Toby. Good job!”
Toby’s smile could have lit up the room. “Me and Toody maked ‘em.”
“Oh, well, you two make a good team.”
Steve was just thinking how nice a cup of coffee would taste, when Raphael handed him a cup.
“Um—thanks.” The mind-reading thing’s a little disconcerting…
He said to Toby, “So—you went to the park yesterday.”
Toby nodded, his mouth full. “Doggy!” he said around the mush.
Raphael’s countenance flared for a moment. Steve noticed.
Uh-oh. Something tells me this ‘doggy’ figures in on what is upsetting Lydia.
Footsteps clattered down the stairs, and Toby bolted for the kitchen door. “Toody!”
As the door closed behind him, Steve looked over at Lydia, who had had had time to recompose herself. She seemed a lot calmer.
“So now can you tell me what went on?” he asked her gently.
Lydia glanced at Raphael. He, in turn, seemed to turn his thoughts inward.
And suddenly, there stood Gabriel beside his angelic brother.
“I thought it best if both of them were here to fill you in on—things—beyond yesterday,” Lydia explained.
Steve was grateful that he had slept well. Otherwise he might have put all this down to hallucinations caused by exhaustion. As it was, his patience was wearing thin with all this extra company, when all he wanted was a quiet morning with his wife. There had been a time, not so long ago, when he had been in awe of these heavenly visitors, but now it was so commonplace that he had begun to see them more as a supernatural nuisance.
Lydia saw that Steve was getting agitated, and started in without further hesitation. She related the events of the previous day, and then told him what Pat had said just an hour or so earlier.
At the mention of the Magma complex, Steve’s eyes flew open wide. He got up and started pacing, rubbing his chin, obviously upset.
Suddenly he stopped and stared at the angels. “Magma? What’s going on there—do you two know?”
Lydia was perplexed by his reaction. “Why? Besides what I just told you, that is. It’s not like we’re going to have anything to do with it.”
A sudden horrible thought struck her. She looked closely at Steve. “Are we?” she asked in a quavering voice.
Steve squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose. Oh, great…
He sighed and looked at the floor. “My clients are planning to start a medical research facility in those buildings…” He rubbed the back of his neck.
“What!!” Lydia exclaimed. “Up there? Do they know the complex’s history?” She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“I told them what I could, but they just got even more interested. That’s one of the reasons I was so late last night—besides the traffic and accident. These clients—well, one of them—she’s the one who owns the New Orleans lot that I went to supervise. Now she’s hooked up with one Howard Messer and plans to underwrite his next scheme.”
“Howard Messup?” came a voice from near the door. Trudy joined them, after having listened to the conversation from the other room.
“The same.” Steve turned and smiled at his daughter.
“Good morning, Trudy.” He went over to her and kissed her on the forehead. “Dressed already? That’s a surprise.”
“Yeah, I have to go down to Martha’s. Her grandma passed away, and I’m going to help Martha keep herself together for a while. At least until she can sort through—everything. Poor kid—the relatives are all over her about her grandma’s possessions.”
Steve said, “I’m sorry to hear that. Let her know she’s in our prayers.”
“I will, Dad. Now if someone would put a hold on this little boy here, I’ll be going.” Toby was clinging to her, refusing to let go.
“Stay here, Toody! Stay and play wif me!”
Raphael strode over and touched the boy’s shoulder. “Toby, let’s go get some of your toys. I’ll play with you.”
“Oh boy!” The little guy shot out of the room and up the stairs, Trudy completely forgotten. She stood looking after him.
“Well, alrighty then…” She smiled at Raphael. “Thanks.”
Trudy kissed her parents good-bye, and looked at Gabriel as if she wanted to do the same to him. Knowing how she felt about him, he merely smiled and squeezed her shoulder.
It’ll have to do, she thought resignedly.
After she left, Steve returned to his story.
“This woman, Delilah Atherton—she has more money than brains, I think.”
“Oh!” interrupted Lydia. “That explains it.” At Steve’s questioning look, she said, “You called me Delilah last night.”
“I did? Not surprising, considering how much she’s monopolized my life for the past week or so. Anyway—she’s really taken with the whole idea of getting this operation up and running. I will say this—she seems to have her heart in the right place. Wants to hire Seattle’s homeless population to work there. Plans on refurbishing one of the buildings as an employee residence.”
Lydia’s wrists began to throb. The angels noticed it right away. At a warning look from Raphael, she refrained from saying anything about the pain, although she was curious as to why they wanted her to remain silent.
Steve went on; he hadn’t noticed what had happened to Lydia, as he was engrossed in his own dilemma.
“Okay, this is the worst part.” He drew a breath, blew it out. The tension in the air was palpable as everyone waited for him to say what was on his mind.
Finally—“She wants me to be the head foreman on the project.”
“No!” Lydia stood and went to him, grasped his shoulders and looked intently into his eyes. “Steve, you cannot go up there. From what Pat said, there are darker things up there than mere memories.”
“There’s nothing I can do about it. Somehow—guess it was because of how exhausted I was—she got me to say I’d do it. Then, before I could tell her I’d changed my mind, my bosses at corporate made it part of the contract. And they won’t let me rescind my agreement. It’s my job on the line now, not just what I want or don’t want.”
Steve looked helplessly at Raphael and Gabriel, who were conferring quietly with each other. “So what do I do?”
“Okay, hang on a moment,” Gabriel said, seeing Steve’s agitation. As the mortals watched in wonder, Raphael and Gabriel began to give off an intensely brilliant light. It would have blinded the humans if they had not had divine protection bestowed on them. Obviously, the two angels were in conference with their Master; nothing else would have caused such a rapturous glow.
When it finally subsided, Gabriel gazed at his two friends. “Do not break your promise, Steve. We can work with this. But expect to see me around the workplace, at least until we ascertain what is going on.”
“Do you really think…?” Steve broke off as Gabriel’s form started to disappear.
“I’ll be back,” he reassured them. “Pat’s in need of my help.”
Before Pat’s alarmed parents could ask any questions, Gabriel was gone.
“Pat?” Lydia looked at Raphael, alarm in her eyes.
“Don’t worry. He is not harmed. He just needs some guidance,” Raphael explained. “He is being given his mission.”
Lydia swallowed hard. So it’s come to this. The reason I returned from Heaven…
Before she could say anything, Raphael suddenly shimmered into invisibility.
“Toby. Follow.” And he led the way out of the kitchen.
Toby! They had been so caught up in their conversation that they’d forgotten all about him.
Fine grandparents we’ll make, Lydia thought.
They rushed through the kitchen door and gasped as they saw that the door to the street was wide open.
And Toby was standing in the middle of the road!
Raphael was already beside the tot as Lydia and Steve raced out of the house. He put out a hand to stop them as they charged across the lawn.
“Wait. Watch. You will see part of what awaits him, and why I am here to guard him.”
As Lydia and Steve clung to each other, watching in terror, a dark mass undulated towards the boy.
“Doggy!” Toby was excited, jumping up and down, laughing happily.
The wraith suddenly rose up into a terrible figure, overshadowing the little boy. Just before it engulfed him, Toby frowned at it in anger and disappointment. He raised a chubby little arm to the heavens and pointed the other at the entity in a way that was nowhere near toddler-like.
“Bad doggy!” he yelled. At that same instant, a beam of light, too unbearably bright to look at, coursed from the heavens. It made Raphael look like a shade in comparison. Through Toby it coursed, entering his upraised arm and exiting the one pointed at the black miasma.
The entity screeched once, and then disintegrated.
Toby was left alone in the street, looking puzzled. He turned and saw the trio—Raphael, ready for anything, his hand on the hilt of his sword, and his favorite aunt and uncle, staring wide-eyed at him.
Lydia rushed to him and gathered him up in her arms. “That bad doggy’s gone, sweetie.”
“Good. I tired.” And he fell asleep where he stood.
Lydia looked up at Steve, amazed. “What just happened here?”
Steve shook his head in wonder.
“You’ve just had a taste of what this child is destined to do,” explained Raphael. “What you just saw— that shadow—was a minor demon. A scout, if you will. Toby handled it well. But there will be more, and he will not be untouched by the present difficulties, which is why I am here.”
Lydia held Toby tighter while he slept on. Steve bent down and gently lifted the little boy out of her embrace.
Wordlessly, they all went back into the house.